Williams fire 5% contained, could burn for a week

It could take a week to wrestle the fire churning through the Angeles National Forest into submission, authorities said Monday as the blaze grew to 3,600 acres and injured four people, including at least two of the 500-plus firefighters who had swarmed into the hills above Azusa.

The blaze, which officials dubbed the Williams fire, erupted Sunday afternoon about three miles east of California 39, between Camp Williams Resort and Burro Canyon Shooting Park in the San Gabriel Mountains. By Monday afternoon, it was still only 5% contained, but no structures had been lost and none were threatened, Angeles National Forest spokesman Nathan Judy said.

The most active front of the fire was moving north, toward Rattlesnake Canyon, Judy said — “and there’s nothing out there for it to get ahold of,” he said. “Nothing but fuel and vegetation.”


PHOTOS: Crews battle brush fire above Azusa

Four people, including at least two firefighters, had been injured, Angeles National Forest Officer Angie Lavell said. Few details were available, though officials said none of the four required hospitalization. The firefighters suffered from heat-related ailments, Lavell said, and a third person appeared to have injured an ankle.

A hiker stranded in the vicinity of the fire was airlifted to safety, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Officials said the fire might not be fully contained until next Monday. Full containment would require crews to dig out, by hand, a fireproof strip of bare earth around the perimeter of the blaze. There were 48 hand crews working on that Monday, but authorities said they were hampered by slopes as steep as 80 degrees and temperatures that hit 98.

“It’s extremely steep and rugged terrain, and some of it is inaccessible,” Lavell said. “So it’s going to take a very long time.”

The earthen containment line is required to be 11/2 times as wide as the height of the nearby vegetation to ensure containment. For example, if the nearby brush is 10 feet high, the containment line has to be 15 feet wide. Most of the brush in the area of the fire was dense chaparral that had not burned in at least 15 years.

The crews were receiving support from six helicopters and several air tankers.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation. A burned car was found in the area, officials said, but it was unclear whether the car was the source of the fire or had been consumed by the blaze.

The fire was in an area that is popular with hikers and campers. Campgrounds in the area have drawn as many as 12,000 visitors on Labor Day weekends. Numerous public areas in the vicinity of the fire remained evacuated Monday, including campgrounds and picnic areas.

Hundreds of people live in and around Camp Williams Resort, which includes a campground, a mobile home park and a restaurant. Evacuations were suggested there too, but “a few people have decided that they are going to stay,” said John Wagner, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

“I don’t think the Sheriff’s Department is going to physically haul people out,” Wagner said.

Residents appeared to be nonplused by the fire.

Susan King-Morgan, 51, and her husband, Chuck Morgan, 68, sat casually on lawn chairs and watched as one helicopter after another dumped water on flames burning along a mountainside about half a mile from Camp Williams, their home for 10 years. The couple declined the suggestion to evacuate, as they have done for three previous fires, they said.

“If we’re here, our place will be safer,” King-Morgan said.

Their neighbor, 68-year-old Daniel Burress, said he had not evacuated in his 30 years at the camp.

“I’m a Vietnam vet, so this doesn’t scare me at all,” he said. Burress, known to locals as “Grandpa,” retrieved a pile of family photos from his mobile home, including one of a fire that got to within a short distance of his home.

“Now that was a fire,” he said.

Also Monday, firefighters appeared to gain the upper hand on a wildfire that burned about 30 acres in Los Padres National Forest.

That fire began shortly after 11 a.m. as flames moved quickly through brush and timber in the Lockwood Valley area. But an aggressive attack by crews on the ground and tanker planes and a helicopter helped stop the blaze from going out of control, officials said.

PHOTOS: Crews battle brush fire above Azusa

“We’re feeling pretty good about it,” Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen said.